It all started on a sunny September day in 2005, when I received an e-mail from a Mrs. Mary Butterbroth from San Diego, California. Mary wrote that she had come across my web site, and she thought that after reading several stories on my web site, I would be the one, most likely to help her with her genealogy. Mary was looking for information on her paternal ancestors, the Prondzinskis. Mary's great-grandfather, Joseph Prondzinski was born in Poland on December 3. 1836. This according to old documents Mary had in her collection. Mary just wanted to confirm the birth date of her great-grandfather and perhaps see what else I could contribute to her genealogy. After months and months of Mary writing letters to relatives, archives and government offices and compiling dates and names for her family history book, the manuscript was finally ready to take to the printer to be edified, printed and published. Mary just wanted to make sure that there wasn't anything she had overlooked. That's why the email was sent to Canada.
The name Prondzinski was not new to me. There are several different branches of the Prondzinskis, like the Aubracht-Prondzinskis, the Depka-Prondzinskis and the Pluto-Prondzinskis. After receiving the request from Mary, I knew immediately that I could be of some assistance to Mary with her family research. I had seen the name "Prondzinski" many times in my computer data base and other research material I have in my collection. After a few hours of sifting through endless files with names and dates, I found Mary's great-grandfather. But according to my records, he was born on the 14th of February 1841 and not on December 3rd 1836. After a few more emails back and forth to California, I was sure that I had found the right Joseph Prondzinski. It took a few more hours of checking names and dates and copying many records, and then a rather large envelope went into the mail to California. I had sent Mary enough information to take her family's history back to the late 1690's. As a matter of interest, the Coat of Arms of the Aubracht family, dating back to the early 1700's can be seen on the canopy right above the pulpit in the Borzyszkowy church. (See footnote)
Not long after I had mailed the envelope, I received the "sad" news from Mary that she had to postpone the publication of her family history book by at least 6 months on account of all the new material she had received from me. Mary's book on the Prondzinskis would have been an excellent account of her family's history. But with all this new information, some of which had never been available or published before, Mary's book with nearly 600 pages of information on her ancestors, now became truly a treasure for the whole Prondzinski family.
It took almost 10 years and a fair amount of financial resources for my friends and co-researcher in Germany and in Poland as well as me to build up a data base of many 1000's of names, pertaining to 3 main events, births, marriages & deaths, from 3 different parishes. The parishes are: Borzyazkowy (Borzyszkowo), Niezabyszewo (Damsdorf) and Tuchomie (GroβTuchen). The period covered is for the years 1720-1900, depending on the parish. I had advised Mary, that I had visited many of the smaller villages around the City of Bytów before, but never the villages of Pradzona and Hamer MIyn (Hammer Mühle) I let Mary know however, that I would make sure to visit these two places on my next visit to the area, which was already in the planning stages and scheduled to take place around August-September 2006.
The months went by very fast and suddenly it was time to pack my bags and off I went once again to visit the home of my ancestors. In a land known as Pomerania and Kaszubia. The flight from Edmonton-Toronto-Munich-Gdansk was smooth and uneventful. I spent a couple of days in the City of Gdansk to meet old friends and make new contacts, which would help me with my family research at a later date. As the saying goes: "Its not, what you know, but, who you know, that counts". After three days in Gdansk, I continued my trip to the village of Piaszno by car. Cousin Reinhard was waiting for me in front of his house. After a big "Witamy" (welcome) to Pomerania and Kaszubia, it was time to take a short rest and then-continue the next morning with my visit to the village of Prądzona and Hammer Mlyn. Cousin Reinhard speaks fluent Polish and knows almost every village in the district and also has many friends in many towns and villages. Cousin Reinhard is also very much interested in the history of his own family, which dates back in the village of Piaszno several 100 years. So we both have very much the same interest in genealogy, which shows when we visit archives, museums, churches and cemeteries.
The next morning it was off to visit the village of Prądzona, which is about 16 km or 22 km from Piasmo, depending which way you drive. After a 40 minute drive we arrived in Prądzona and Reinhard knew right away which house the Prondzinskis lived in, it was house #3. We drove on to the farm yard and soon Reinhard was talking, in Polish of course, with Mr. Prondzinski Sr., and with his son and the son's wife.
Since I did not understand the language, I smiled politely every time they looked my way. All I could understand from time to time was "Kanadzcyzk". Later Reinhard told me that these people just couldn't understand why somebody would travel all the way from Canada to a small village like Prądzona. But after Reinhard told them, that my ancestors were the Pazatka-Lipinski's from Lipnica (Liepnitz), they did seem to understand my interest in the area and its people. Their interest grew even more, after Reinhard had told them that I had been in contact with a lady in California, whose ancestors are also from the Prondzinskis' clan and that I had promised this lady, to bring back some pictures, showing where the cradle of the Prondzinski family is and what it looks like.
The son of the owner motioned to me to follow him into the house. In the living room he pointed to a large picture showing a young man in a Prussian uniform.
He gave me to understand, that this was his great-great-grandfather. It would not have been possible, just a few years ago, when the communists were in power, to have a picture like this on display. This picture must have been well hidden away for many years and one has to wonder, how many more treasures like this are hidden away in some dark attic or some other place. This old picture of a Prussian soldier hanging in a Polish home now, verified my very own belief, that genealogy has no room for political boundaries or restrictions. This sort of thing has of course only too often impeded the family research for many people. In the farm yard you could see that some of the old traditions are still very much in use, like raising your own rabbits for meat and drying mushrooms for the winter. But modem times are also visible in the yard with a stack of old tractor and car tires, with no place to take them for recycling. This place here now, #3 Prądzona was truly the cradle of the Prondzinski clan and legend has it, that a long time ago, the Prondzinskis had been very rich and had owned most of the land in the district.
One old lady told us, that you could walk from sunrise to sunset and you would still be on land owned by the Prondzinskis. It's hard to tell how much truth there is in this statement, but it makes for a good title to this story. Now it was time to say our good-byes in the village of Prądzona and continue to Hamer Mlyn (Hammer Mühle) only a short drive away, about 5 km.
After arriving at the old mill, we were welcomed by the owner, a Mr. Bilawa and his wife, and some more members of the family. Needless to say, Reinhard knew every one of them. If I remember right, Reinhard even told me, that one of them was a distant cousin of his. How could I go wrong with having a tour guide like Reinhardt? Now, one of the old stories here is that a long time ago (how long? - must have been around the late 1800's when there were still people around with the title of nobleman). Anyway, a nobleman, by the name of Bielarski, came to see Mr. Prondzinski and asked if he could have a job. Mr. Prondzinski did not hire this fellow because he was a nobleman and that just wasn't done in those days, to hire a nobleman for manual labor. Anyway, the nobleman went to the town of Brusy and had his name changed to Bilawa. Now he came back to the Prondzinski estate and again asked for a job. This time he did get the job. Later on, so the story goes, this Bilawa fellow married the daughter of Prondzinski. From this marriage came two sons, Stephan and Joseph Bilawa. Stephan inherited the mill and Joseph the lake. Both sons most likely also received some land.
Now here in Harner Mlyn, everybody wanted to know who this stranger was, Reinhard had in tow? This fellow couldn't speak the language but took a lot of pictures. Cousin Reinhard had to come to my rescue once again and tell everybody who I was. After all, I belonged to the Pazatka-Pazontka-Lipinski clan from Lipnica/Liepnitz and everybody knew that family. This brings me back to the name Prądzinski/Prondzinski. In the name Prądzinski, on the letter "a" there is a little hook at the bottom of the letter [ą]. In the Polish language, this would be pronounced as Prondzinski. That's why there are two ways of writing or spelling the name Prądzinski /Prondzinski.
In front of the old mill, I discovered several old millstones, which at one time took care of milling all the flour for the district. A longtime ago, you had to have a privilege granted by some government official or even the king himself to be able to own a mill and to mill grain into flour, or flax into oil. Not far from the mill was the old Prondzinski-Bilawa farmstead. Nobody had lived here for years. The land is now being used to grow different crops, but the farm yard hasn't been in use for years and is deserted.
Walking through the high grass, I could smell the wild flowers and I could hear the creek flowing not too far away, the same creek that at one time was turning the big heavy millstones just a short distance away. The farm house looked relatively new compared to other farm buildings. The farm house was rebuilt after 1945. The old farm house had burned down. The other farm buildings did show their age and had partially caved in. Another building with a straw roof barely would survive another year, but still presented a very interesting sight.
I also discovered what looked like an old fire pit. From the ashes, part of a horseshoe was showing through and I pulled a complete horseshoe out. This looked to me like a good omen. The horseshow now sits in my collection back home in Canada. Maybe some day I will send it to Mary, to serve as a souvenir of the old Prondzinski farmstead. As I was standing there in the old deserted farm yard in the late afternoon sun and the warm wind ever so gently blowing, I closed my eyes just for a moment and thought: This is truly Kashubia, this here is where my roots are. I could hear some voice in the distance in some strange language I think it was Kashubian calling out to me. I must have had my eyes closed a bit too long, for then there was Cousin Reinhard calling me and telling me that it was time to drive home, back to Piaszno. On the way back home we drove past a small village called Prądzinski. Here hardly any of the old houses are still standing. "New" money is building big homes, which are out of reach for the average working man. This village also belonged, at one time, to the Prondzinskis.
Later that evening back in Piaszno, Reinhard and I talked about the things we had seen and the people we had talked too. It had been a very interesting day and it was time to catch some sleep, so that I would be ready for my next adventure the following day. As I drifted off to sleep, still smelling the wild flowers and listening to the sound of the creek flowing by, I was wondering what Mary back in California would say, if she could see now the ancestral home of the Prądzinskis/Prondzinskis.
P.S. I did not collect or record any details as to the names and dates of any of the Prądzinskis/Prondzinskis I had met that day. I leave that to somebody from the Prądzinski/Prondzinski clan. However, I did collect a lot of pleasant memories to last me a lifetime.
Footnote: The nearly 300 year old historical wood carvings, including the old Coat of Arms, have been removed in around August of 2006 from the church in Borzyszkowy. They were sent to another city for restoration and are expected back soon.
Photos by Peter von Pazatka Lipinsky